WASHINGTON, June 20 — Voters in Georgia will decide the most expensive US congressional race ever today, a US$60 million (RM256.95 million) political brawl where a Democratic novice could score an upset in a conservative stronghold and strike a blow against Donald Trump’s presidency.
The most recent polls show the race — seen as a key indicator for next year’s mid-term elections — virtually deadlocked as both candidates sprinted to the finish.
Republicans are facing a sobering reminder of their president’s poor approval ratings, as 30-year-old centrist Democrat Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker and onetime political assistant, clings to the narrowest of leads.
“It’s a neck and neck race, and it’s all about turnout now,” Ossoff told WSB television yesterday.
“That’s why we’re so focused on get out the vote” operations.
With Democrats potentially striking the first blow against Trump in 2017, the race has drawn substantial national attention — and vast outside contributions to both candidates.
Ossoff and his Republican rival, the former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, spent the weekend and yesterday crisscrossing the southern state’s sixth congressional district as the race went down to the wire.
Despite Trump’s low approval ratings the president expressed support for Handel, 55, in multiple social media posts yesterday.
“Big day tomorrow in Georgia and South Carolina,” Trump tweeted, referring to a second state which is holding a special congressional election today.
Ossoff “wants to raise taxes and kill healthcare,” Trump added.
“On Tuesday (today), #VoteKarenHandel.”
Ossoff is trying to flip the suburban Atlanta district that Republican Tom Price left to become Trump’s health secretary.
The Democrat won the first round against several candidates in April, but fell just shy of outright victory.
The June 20 runoff quickly became the most expensive US House race in history, with the campaigns, political action committees and other outside groups raising nearly US$60 million, according to government reform and ethics group Issue One.
Ossoff has unleashed a massive ground operation reportedly consisting of 12,000 door-knocking, call-making volunteers.
The two campaigns and political groups have bombarded Atlanta airwaves with election advertising.
Georgia’s sixth district has been held by Republicans since 1979. But as an increasingly well-educated, diverse suburban district it is exactly the kind of territory which Democrats need to flip if they want to gain the 24 seats necessary to reclaim the House of Representatives in 2018.
“If the Democrats win the Georgia Sixth it should be a wake-up call to the Republican Party,” GOP strategist Rick Tyler, ex-spokesman for Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, told MSNBC.
Some observers were also eying the race for clues into how voters perceive the Republican health care bill currently making its way through Congress.
Handel has aligned herself with Trump, who campaigned heavily on repealing Obamacare. If she loses, Republicans in swing districts may be forced to reassess their positions on health care.
Polls open today from 7am to 7pm.
Today’s runoff is the third chance opposition Democrats have to win a House seat since Trump took office.
Special congressional elections in Kansas and Montana — also to replace Republicans who joined Trump’s team — were seen as a chance for Democrats to score first strikes against the administration.
But with Democrats falling short in those races, and the Republican expected to win in South Carolina, all eyes have turned to Georgia.
Should Democrats fail to convert at least one of the special election seats, it could be a demoralizing blow for administration opponents who have seen these races as early tests of the national strength of an anti-Trump movement.
A flash of political violence meanwhile has cast a shadow over the Georgia race: the shooting of a top Republican congressman last Wednesday. Steve Scalise remains hospitalized in serious condition after being shot in the hip.
Both candidates have reported receiving threats, prompting heightened security in the final days of the race. — AFP